By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
Cynic, Focus (Roadrunner). Death-metallers usually don't have much tolerance for hooks, but the four Cynics aren't just any death-metallers. Their forays into melody make the crash-and-burn riffing even more effective.
Danzig, Danzig-4 (American). You may laugh at ol' Glenn, but you've got to admit it: He's as captivating and magnetic a frontman as any hard-rocker out there right now. Jim Morrison would approve.
Godflesh, Selfless (Earache/Columbia). It's become commonplace to warn folks that metal discs aren't for the faint of heart, but this time we really mean it. Selfless is loud and smart, and it will scare your folks.
Soundgarden, Superunknown (A&M). We've heard these songs over and over again during the past year, and we're not sick of them yet. There can be no greater recommendation for this album, by far Soundgarden's finest.
Front Line Assembly, Millennium (Roadrunner). Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber have been putting out exciting industrial material for a long stretch, and they show no signs of slowing down. Clearly, Assembly is required.
KMFDM, Angst (Wax Trax!/TVT). Those persistent guitars--those chugging beats--those stentorian vocals. Mmm-hmm, it's KMFDM again, and Angst finds these vets doing it once more with feeling.
Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral (Nothing/Interscope). Trent Reznor's got some muscle now: How else could he have gotten the line "I want to fuck you like an animal" on the air? A victory for the nihilists among us.
Sect, Telekinetic (Third Mind). Mike Victory, Jason McEvoy and Bruce Young know that sometimes words get in the way. On Telekinetic, they let their machines do the talking--and they've got a lot to say.
VATIC[A.N.], Infocalypse (Industry). The nice thing about this music is that you can pretty much do it yourself. Infocalypse, from a Chicago indie, is as compelling as anything put out by better-known peers.
Either/Orchestra, The Brunt (Accurate). A group of ten true believers who've been on the edge of the jazz scene for years now, the Orchestra combines tight structures and free playing like no other combo.
William Hooker, Radiation (Homestead). The alternative label branches out with a brash disc from Hooker, whose ensemble is as fiery and uninhibited as any in the land. A wild exercise in full-blown skronking.
Sonny Simmons, Ancient Ritual (Qwest/ Reprise). Into a jazz scene laden with young lions draining the life out of post-bop comes a man who juices his music with passion. Like a Coltrane album Coltrane never made.
Mike Stern, Is What It Is (Atlantic Jazz). When he joined Miles Davis's band, Stern was seen as a jazz sellout. Here he proves to be an intriguing improvisational player rather than a rocker in jazz clothing.
Steve Tibbetts, The Fall of Us All (ECM). Tibbetts takes his listeners to breathless heights on Fall, a recording that's exotic, experimental and completely rewarding. Jazz the way it was meant to be.
Maggie Estep, No More Mister Nice Girl (Imago/NuYo). This woman has quite a mouth on her. Estep merges spoken word with music to create pieces that are simultaneously funny and not funny. Tell it, girlfriend!
Material, Hallucination Engine (Axiom). Producer Bill Laswell has come up with one of his most potent discs, a pastiche graced by brilliant players, Wayne Shorter and Bernie Worrell among them. Intoxicating.
Pat Metheny, Zero Tolerance for Silence (DGC). Metheny gets his share of knocks, but only a truly driven artist would risk his following with a CD this abrasive and challenging. A feedback orgy of epic proportions.
Manny Oquendo and Libre, Mejor Quet Nunca (Milestone). It would be simple enough to call this Latin music, but it's more than that. Salsa, jazz and dance music from around the world get together and kick up their heels.
Velvet Cactus Society, 26 Songs (Shimmy-Disc). Nutso song fragments that suggest a collaboration between They Might Be Giants and the Residents. Unbridled imagination is on display here.
Bootsy's New Rubber Band, Blasters of the Universe (Rykodisc). Two CDs' worth of prime Bootsy. Space-bassist Collins's timely comeback finds him with his funky attitude and his funky music utterly intact.
The Brand New Heavies, Brother Sister (Delicious Vinyl). Previous Heavies releases have seemed forced. By contrast, Brother Sister is a soulful serenade, as well as singer N'Dea Davenport's coming-out party.
Nu Soul Habits, Meant to Be (Motown). It's appropriate Meant is on Motown, because the work of Tonye Hilmon and Eddie Towns Jr. seems like an update of the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell duets. And that's good company.
Jimmy Scott, Dream (Sire/Warner Bros./ Blue Horizon). Scott is presented as he should be--with little else other than his voice to keep him, and us, company. Beautiful and disturbing in equal measures.
Barry White, The Icon Is Love (A&M). No doubt White's higher profile of late has something to do with camp. Nonetheless, Icon is an over-the-top seduction festival that's marvelously smooth, deep and profane.
Afro-Plane, Afro-Plane (Kaper/RCA). The Arrested Development approach to hip hop is already showing signs of wear. Even so, Afro-Plane's journey into funk and psychedelia emerges with all its verve intact.
Beastie Boys, Ill Communication (Grand Royal/Capitol). Damn it if the Boys don't keep getting better. Rap's only one element in a mix that's both accessible (e.g., "Sabotage") and forward-looking.